Town Crier: Deadhead author recalls 40 years of following band


'Deadhead' and author Blair Jackson

‘Deadhead’ and author Blair Jackson

MONTCLARION: Dec 11, 2015

“What a long, strange trip it’s been.”– “Truckin’ ” by the Grateful Dead

These lyrics could be the epitaph for a lot of us who grew up in the 1960s. Oakland writers Blair Jackson and David Gans would certainly agree. Their new book, “This Is All a Dream We Dreamed: An Oral History of the Grateful Dead,” is just the latest way these two have made a living out of documenting the iconic band.

I asked Jackson to share some of his experiences from more than 40 years of following the Dead.

Jackson: “I first saw the Grateful Dead in the spring of 1970 when I was 16 and growing up in a suburb of New York City. I’d heard a couple of their records, but seeing them live was love at first sight; I was hooked and saw them five more times that year, including a few at the fabled Fillmore East, and seven times the following year. I was already interested in a possible career in music journalism and wrote my first review of a Grateful Dead album for a scandalous underground paper a few of my high school buddies and I put out. By the fall of 1973, I’d moved to the Bay Area, the Dead’s backyard. I got in on the ground floor of a free fledgling music monthly called BAM, and my first cover story for that mag in August 1976 was a long review of a Grateful Dead concert in San Francisco.I met my co-author on “This Is All a Dream We Dreamed,” David Gans, at BAM in 1977. David knew more about the Dead than anyone I knew at the time, and he took over a column at BAM called “Dead Ahead.” Between us, we have interviewed every key person in the group’s long saga. For nine years, too, I and my wife, Regan McMahon, who was a journalist at the San Francisco Chronicle, put out a Dead fanzine called The Golden Road, in our spare time. That took us even deeper into Deadland! David has been a working musician the entire time I’ve known him, so he truly understands the Dead’s music in ways that few do.”

PRIOR: “What was the most profound memory you can share? Something on which you look back with fondness or horror?”

JACKSON: “It’s impossible to pick out a single memory among more than 350 Dead concerts over a 25-year period, hundreds of interviews with band members and Grateful Dead ‘family,’ etc., but I will say that following the Grateful Dead on the road was the most fun you could have breaking only 10 or 12 laws! Because we always had real jobs, we mostly did long weekends away or just a week at time at out-of-town shows, but it was such a wonderful, adventurous, elevating, spirit-replenishing pastime. So many of our friends were along for the wild ride, too, so it was social and spiritual and kick-out-the-jams fun all at the same time. It was a magic carpet ride none of us will ever forget.”

PRIOR: “For those of us who missed the ’60s (in my case, growing up in rural Minnesota), what did we miss that was positive? What did we miss that was negative?”

JACKSON: “The scene that grew up around the Dead was marked by many of the best elements of the late-’60s counterculture — specifically, a real sense of community, an openness to new things, interest in consciousness expansion, and a laissez-faire “do-your-own-thing” philosophy. The downside is that some people got caught up in self-destructive hedonism or, in their efforts to explore new spiritual pathways, followed egotistical charlatans or worse. But on balance, the 1960s ethos of sharing and being kind and caring about the planet far outweighed the negativity that cropped up along the way. The Dead never really espoused or endorsed any particular philosophy or lifestyle, but there was something about the songs and their open musical approach that attracted a certain sort of person, and together they — we — constructed this ramshackle Deadhead world that we inhabited at shows, and in many cases, brought into our regular lives, too. I’ll always be a proud Deadhead.”

Got news? You can reach Ginny Prior by email at or on the web at



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